Barnsley’s finest two hours just part of six games in nine days

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In an age of 24-hour sports news channels and multi-million pound contracts it is hard to muster up much sympathy for Roberto Di Matteo and Kenny Dalglish.

The respective high-profile managers of Chelsea and Liverpool have had all of two days to prepare for the FA Cup final, the one-time jewel in the crown of English football.

So far has the competition’s stock fallen that it has been bumped down the running order of a busy Saturday in the Premier League.

No longer warranting a Saturday all on its own, the FA Cup final finds itself shoe-horned into the closing stages of the increasingly more important Premier League.

Liverpool played on Tuesday night, Chelsea 24 hours later.

And three days after today’s final the two meet again in the league on Tuesday.

No wonder then that there is a glum Italian face and a dour Scotsman on Sky Sports News every hour.

Di Matteo and Dalglish should think themselves lucky they are not in the position of Arthur Fairclough, the manager who 100 years ago last month led Barnsley to glory in the FA Cup.

Barnsley’s victory on Wednesday, April 24, 1912, at Bramall Lane marked the only occasion on which the Reds have won the game’s most famous knockout cup competition.

What stirs echoes of their triumph today is the amount of games that Barnsley had to negotiate as they combined a bid for Cup honours with promotion from Division Two.

Fairclough’s men contested 12 games in the month of April, a Football League record that still stands a century on.

In Cup final week alone they played in the final at Crystal Palace on Saturday, in a league game on the Monday, in the FA Cup final replay in Sheffield on the Wednesday, and in league games again on Thursday, Saturday and Monday.

And all with a squad of 16 players and no substitutes allowed.

“If it hadn’t have been for Harry Tufnell scoring the winner in the replay in the 118th minute they would have had to have played a second replay, probably on the Friday,” says Barnsley historian Dave Wood, whose book, written with Mark Metcalf, Lifting the Cup, chronicles Barnsley’s Cup glory.

“Canvey Island once played 12 games in 2003 but that was non-League. No Football League club has played as many games in April as Barnsley did back in 1912.”

Imagine the scowls on the faces of today’s Premier League managers if confronted with such a gruelling schedule.

We can only wonder how Fairclough would have responded had he had microphones thrust under his nose at every opportunity.

The only Barnsley manager to have won the FA Cup, Fairclough did not stick around too long to try to build on the success.

That summer he left to join Huddersfield Town.

Years later he tried to take Town to Leeds when the city’s leading football club of the day collapsed. Fairclough ended up managing Leeds United, who emerged from the ashes of Leeds City.

The 1912 FA Cup final at Crystal Palace between Barnsley and West Bromwich Albion ended goalless, but was entertaining nonetheless, according to reports in the Barnsley Independent.

Four days later, Tufnell scored the only goal of the replay two minutes from the end of extra time.

The report in the Barnsley Independent read: “Getting the ball in midfield he made for the Albion citadel with promptitude and alacrity by the nearest route.

“Distancing Pennington and Cook, the Albion backs, who made a vain effort to check his career, Tufnell kept complete control of the ball, and when Pearson advanced to lessen his space for shooting, he directed it deftly, skilfully and accurately into the far corner of the net.

“By dour defence, indomitable pluck, dashing attack, and a fair share of that good luck without which the English Cup was never yet won, the Barnsley team have kept the Cup, which Bradford City won a year ago, in Yorkshire.”

As with all teams that earn success above their station, the Barnsley team was broken up after they failed to match cup success with promotion to the top division.

Dickie Downes moved on to Everton and would later represent England.

Wilf Bartrop left in 1915 when he went to war. He had signed a contract to play for Liverpool on his return, but died four days before the end of World War I in 1918.

1912 may be best remembered as the year in which the Titanic sunk, but in Barnsley it was the year of glorious celebrations as they won the oldest cup competition in the world.

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